A pair of Neanderthals found at cave site in Spain ate veggies
Their counterparts in what's now Belgium mostly ate meat
Turns out, Neanderthals were just like us. When in pain, they self-medicated.
A new study that focused on the hardened dental plaque of four Neanderthals – two found at a site in Spain and two from Belgium – indicates they may have turned to plants to relieve pain.
One young Neanderthal in Spain appeared to treat a dental abscess with medicinal plants, highlighting an ability to seek pain relief long before pills came into existence, according to the study.
The study published Wednesday in the journal Nature had several surprises.
For starters, the Neanderthals from Spain had completely different diets from their counterparts found in Belgium.
They chowed on various foods, including mushrooms, pine nuts and sheep meat, depending on the region they lived in.
Just veggies in Spain
The pair of Neanderthals from El Sidrón Cave in Spain led what appears to have been a vegetarian lifestyle. A study of their dental plaque revealed they dined on mushrooms, moss and pine nuts – with no meat.
They were not necessarily vegetarians by choice, however. It was more likely a product of their environment.
The Neanderthals in that region lived in dense forests with no animals, according to Alan Cooper, co-author of the study and professor at the University of Adelaide in Australia.
But the more surprising finding was that one of the two Neanderthals from Spain appeared to have used plants to treat his ailments.
This Neanderthal had a nasty tooth abscess, bad diarrhea and appeared to be “self-medicating,” Cooper said.
Plaque from his teeth showed he was eating poplar, which contains the active ingredient of aspirin. The plaque also indicated a presence of a natural form of the antibiotic penicillin that was not found in the other specimens, he said.
“Apparently, Neanderthals possessed a good knowledge of medicinal plants and their various anti-inflammatory and pain-relieving properties …,” Cooper said in a statement.
“The use of antibiotics would be very surprising, as this is more than 40,000 years before we developed penicillin.”